So, we are in the Land. God's gracious hand has been extended at every turn:
He closes the sea over Satan's army and drowns it in the blood of His Son. (Exodus 14)
God commands us to follow His Word--"Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do." (Josh. 1:8)
God extols us to be "strong and very courageous." (Josh. 1:7)
The Word of God is also "intel"--it gives us the lay of the land, what its inhabitants are doing and how we are to advance only in the name of Jesus Christ, under the Holy Spirit's leading. The Word is our "spy" and we hear how Satan and his minions tremble at God's mightiness as demonstrated at the cross and at the tomb. (Josh. 2)
We stepped into the river, with our High Priest ahead of us, and its raging waters stop up and we crossed on dry land. (Josh. 3)
We erect "standing stones"--those times when God answered our prayers, delivered us and showed His mighty hand--and we remember these as an antidote to fear and frustration. (Josh. 4)
We remind ourselves of His covenant with His people, and how Jesus took our strips to heal us. We eat of the land--desiring more and more the meat of Word, leaving the milk of manna behind. And, most of all, we meet the Commander of the Lord's army--Jesus Christ Himself, the Author and Perfector of our faith. (Josh. 5)
We see the fortified city of Jericho, that is, anything in our lives and in the lives of those around us that seem so insurmountable and so formidable that it is only by following God that we will ever see the walls come down. And they do. (Josh. 6)
Then we go to war--taking on those challenges that God has directed us to take on--presuming all is in order and that defeat is guaranteed. Then we get our spiritual butts whooped. We lose the job, fail to convince a non-believer, watch heartache and chaos all around us and watch in utter disbelief how our enemies are winning.
We prayed. We read the Word. We walked and talked with our Commander.
You can hear in Joshua and the elders' display of utter dismay when they can't fathom how the Lord's army was defeated. Joshua, along with the elders, intercede with God on the people's behalf:
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell face down to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, 'Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?' (Josh. 7:6-9)
Sounds like our Jesus-Joshua:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-27)
Then God, Who will never withhold the truth from us, reveals the reason: Sin is present because there are those who disobeyed God, as to what He directed should be done with the plunder. Achan nabbed some things from the plunder and hid it. God makes it clear to Joshua and the elders the true nature of the sin and what has occured:
The Lord said to Joshua, 'Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.' (Josh. 7:10-12)
So, personal sin affects the larger society? It's not just my choice?
Achan is singled out, and Joshua tells him to confess what he has done:Achan replied, 'It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.' (Josh. 7:20-21)
Ah, sin. Does he bring the items to the gathering, preemptively showing everyone that he feels ashamed and wants to make amends? No. He broke the 11th Commandment: "Thou shall not get caught."
It's a lot easier to tell the truth once you've been caught, because now it's hard to deny what is in front of everyone. Telling the truth when our sin is still stashed in our tent, and we are secretly hoping no one will know, but we still come forth anyway, because it is the right thing to do, indicates the true nature of our heart and how we view our sin.
Ah, sin. The robe is so pretty. The metal will come in handy for future expenses. Achan is justifying his disobedience with practical reasons:
Honestly, c'mon guys. God doesn't need that robe, and it would be a shame to see it destroyed. The money? Hey, someday we are going to drop our swords, pick up plowshares and start our own farms. I will need investment capital. Or if this war thing goes on for a while, I'd like an upgrade in armor and a new sword. Why not? That stuff hidden in my tent isn't hurting anyone--it's my little secret, and I alone am affected by it. No one needed to know because no one would be affected by it, except me and my family. This is a win-win, as far as I am concerned.
Really, Achan? So a secret dalliance of a pastor only affects him? If no one finds out, then he can conduct his affair, without his church, his family or his ministry being adversely affected, correct?
Really Achan? So, you must be honest after you get caught, because then, well, everyone knows. But, instead of just confessing that you sinned against God, you go on to justify your behavior and that somehow makes it right?
Really Achan? That you made a choice, in your little bubble, and no one should judge you, because, well, God doesn't really need a robe or precious metal!
But God sees the consequences play out. He sees the many ripples in the community pond, and how no one is free from the consequences of personal choice. Why? Because if everyone makes a "personal choice," those choices do accumulate like snow on a ridge. At a certain point, the consequences come roaring down the hillside. God doesn't compromise with sin, because He can see far into the future and measure how the terrible consequences will play out.
We only see ours, and He sees everyone's.
God saw sin as a community affair; He deals with it as a community affair. Joshua says to Achan:
Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, 'Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.'
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since. (Josh. 7:24-26)
Whoa. That's seems harsh, does it not? Besides, we live under God's grace and forgiveness today because of Christ; this harsh treatment was way before Christ.
But, step back and notice why this harsh punishment was meted out: God had expressly said that all the plunder from Jericho was to be dedicated to Him. Then the Israelites lost a battle at Ai. The warriors thus lost their courage and they became "paralyzed with fear." (Josh. 7:5) The warriors had a long road ahead of them, and word getting out that the Israelites were not as invincible as Rahab said the people viewed them as, would only embolden their enemies and make the conquest increasingly harder.
Long-reaching consequences for what would be, in our economy, a small sin, but in God's economy, disobedience is never isolated or without consequences.
So, a new kind of standing stone was erected: the stones that marked the body of Achan.
I have watched the break-down of marriage and its disastrous effects upon children since that seemingly innocent repeal of no-fault divorce laws. What was once unusual became the norm; I am sure people thought, Hey, it's only me that ending my marriage. Just a few of us doing so won't hart marriage as an institution.
But, enough have and the divorce rate is around 50%. I was on the crest of that wave as a teenager in the 70's, when a law officer knocked on our apartment door, and handed my mom divorce papers. Her twenty-three year marriage was over and done with in a matter of months. Yes, my mom was an alcoholic, and my dad had been unhappy for years, but the reform in California's divorce laws meant he could leave with no real challenge to his decision. I saw him then justify having an affair with a married woman, who would not leave her husband due to their financial connections; I saw my dad move in with another woman, and not marry for a while; I then saw my dad hook up with a woman he thought had money, and she thought he had money, and the surprise of it all did not lend itself to a happy union.
Every important event of my life became an endless negotiation of who would attend: my graduation from high-school my wedding and visiting my first-born. My dad just stopped coming to my big life events. He would call me, only to complain about his unhappiness with his current relationship and tell me how jealous his wife was at our time on the phone together.
My parents' divorce was the gift that kept on giving.
As an adult, I watched as children got on airplanes to go and visit and mom or dad; a parent who couldn't leave the state because of the children; children whose Christmases were a nightmare because of all the squabbling about how who did what where; how every important event was marred by who or who would not attend.
I have seen marriage repeatedly redefined since those heady days of the 70's when people could just walk away.
Yes, I know, it's more complicated than that.
But Achan thought simply hiding a few plundered items would not adversely affect anyone, and if anything, these items would benefit him and his family in the future.
As we walk in the newness of life, in this promised Land of His grace, it is to our peril, personally and societally, to hide our sin in the tent marked, "Personal Choice. Do Not Judge."